WASHINGTON -- FedEx and other corporations with gay-friendly policies have partnered with an anti-gay evangelical organization as part of a lobbying effort around energy policy, according to tax documents.
FedEx President and CEO Fred Smith is a leader of the Securing America's Future Energy (SAFE) Foundation, which works to advance energy policy that favors electric vehicles and increased domestic energy production. Since 2010, the group, which National Journal has called a "major player," has been working with the conservative evangelical organization American Values, founded by former Family Research Council head Gary Bauer, a leading anti-marriage equality activist.
Tax documents show that in 2011, the most recent for which documents are available, American Values was SAFE's only grant recipient, getting $60,000. SAFE paid Bauer's group $55,000 the prior year, when American Values was one of two grant recipients (the other was the Electrification Coalition).
Bauer and his wife, Carol Bauer, are listed in the 2011 documents as among American Values' highest-paid employees, with Carol's salary roughly equalling the SAFE payout. A SAFE spokesperson said Bauer remains an adviser to the organization.
Bauer's involvement with SAFE would have been uncontroversial a few years ago, but public opinion has become increasingly less tolerant of anti-gay sentiment. Traditional coalition-building is becoming more complicated as anti-gay bias becomes increasingly unacceptable as part of respectable public discourse.
Bauer regularly refers to marriage between a man and a woman as "normal marriage," and his organization ran a high-profile anti-gay marriage ad during the presidential election. He has accused the Supreme Court of "judicial terrorism" for its marriage equality ruling, and praised the Boy Scouts for resisting the "militant homosexual movement" by not allowing gay and lesbian troop leaders.
Last week, Bauer spoke at SAFE's conference, which was billed as a consideration of the "overlooked threat of oil dependence." The lineup included former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and FedEx's Smith.
"As long as we have that dependency, it is a major weakness that our enemies can exploit," said Bauer at the summit, steering clear of the more culturally charged language for which he is known.
Bauer and American Values focus primarily on stopping the spread of same-sex marriage and reducing access to abortion. Nothing on the group's website or in its tax documents indicates any interest in energy policy -- making him a strange choice to include in a discussion about energy independence.
In fact, the mission statement included in the group's 2011 tax documents would appear at odds with SAFE's interests: "We have to lessen the influence of special interests in Washington and return the average hard working tax payer to the drivers seat."
Bauer told HuffPost that his interest in electric vehicles and energy security predates his work with SAFE, though "not as much as some of the other issues I'm associated with, but I've done some op-eds and that sort of thing, and I've provided some advice and counsel to SAFE," he said. "I've advocated this position somewhat to the chagrin of some of my conservative friends, because five, six years ago I was arguing publicly for doing everything we can to move to the electrification of the car fleet, which made some folks think maybe I was smoking something illegal."
Bauer's aim is to make electric cars safe for evangelical conservatives.
"There's a tendency, any time you get into this general area that even in passing is talking about electric vehicles and that sort of thing, people assume it's a liberal issue, and some conservatives assume it's something they'd have no interest in," Bauer said.
"So I've argued -- have encouraged them to think about the conservative parts of this, which is the national security piece of it and also the fact that this is a great alternative to some of the other stuff we've seen, where hundreds of millions of dollars have been thrown at companies, often with political connections, and the taxpayer just ends up losing money," he added.
Less than a week before the SAFE conference, Bauer was a featured speaker at the conservative Values Voter summit and railed against President Barack Obama for once placing a phone call to "promiscuous co-ed" Sandra Fluke. He also mused in the same speech that gay marriage could be fueling violence in Chicago.
"To be clear, Mr. Bauer only works with us with regard to energy security and energy policy issues," said SAFE spokeswoman Ellen Carey. "Our agreement with him is very specific to this point and does not in any way fund or endorse his non-energy related activities. Any insinuation to the contrary is erroneous."
She added that Bauer "is part of a broad coalition that includes a variety of conservative, progressive and centrist stakeholders. We have built this coalition over the years in a way that allows us to effectively and credibly communicate to the broadest possible audience that oil dependence is a threat to U.S. national security, the economy and environment."
When asked why Bauer's group was the only grant recipient in 2011, Carey replied that SAFE has branched out and grown significantly since then. She repeatedly declined, however, to provide the group's financial data for 2012 or identify which groups have since received funding.
Bauer went so far as to deny that American Values had received any grant money from SAFE. "They have not given any money to American Values," he said. "I'm gonna skip answering those kinds of questions, but I want to be very clear that I do not receive any kind of consultancy or financial benefit from this."
Carey suggested HuffPost speak with Carl Pope, the former head of the Sierra Club who is now a consultant with SAFE, for a better understanding of why the coalition works with Bauer. (Pope's leadership of the Sierra Club was controversial due to his increasing reliance on corporate and natural gas funding.)
Pope argued that the increasing influence of the Koch brothers within the GOP has allowed the party, and the right in general, to be overtaken by the fossil fuel industry. "If a credible evangelical leader is willing to break with the American oil industry's stranglehold on the right, I want to work with him on that one thing," Pope told HuffPost. "I think it's a good thing that SAFE is working with Gary Bauer. That doesn't mean I like anything else about him."
SAFE's website says that in 2006, the group's founder, Robbie Diamond, "came together with Frederick W. Smith, Chairman, President, and CEO of FedEx Corporation ... to form SAFE's Energy Security Leadership Council, a group of prominent business leaders and retired senior military officers dedicated to combating the nation's dangerous dependence on oil," and then goes on to describe specific legislative victories.
SAFE's leadership council is composed of 28 generals and business leaders, all of whom are men. Ret. Marine Corps Gen. P.X. Kelley, a co-founder with Smith of the ESLC, also serves with Bauer on the board of the neoconservative Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.
FedEx is converting its fleet to electric vehicles, and Smith gave the opening remarks at SAFE's conference last week.
"U.S. dependence on foreign oil is one of the biggest economic and geopolitical threats to national wellbeing," said a FedEx spokeswoman. "FedEx is proactively involved in raising awareness as well as pursuing aggressive company goals to reduce fuel use."
Several corporations, including FedEx, whose CEOs are part of the SAFE leadership council have strong records on LGBT issues. Coca-Cola, Royal Caribbean, Applied Materials and Waste Management all offer some sort of same-sex partner benefits and prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and all have received a high ranking from the Human Rights Campaign for being LGBT-friendly workplaces.
Coca-Cola said it had no knowledge of the partnership with Bauer and stated it does not contribute financially to SAFE.
"The Energy Security Leadership Council is a separate project within SAFE, and we were unaware of these specific grants by the foundation. As one of the world's most inclusive brands, we value and celebrate diversity," said a Coca-Cola spokeswoman.
A spokesman for Waste Management simply said, "Waste Management participates in SAFE based solely on its mission -- a non-partisan effort to reduce dependence on oil and advocate for comprehensive energy reform."
"[President and CEO Adam] Goldstein strongly believes in SAFE's mission of strengthening our nation's energy security, which is why he is a member of the leadership council," replied Royal Caribbean spokeswoman Cynthia Martinez, directing further questions to SAFE.
Applied Materials did not respond to requests for comment.
Carey said SAFE gets its funding from "some of the companies," along with "a broad group of foundations, public charities, and private individuals."
"In addition, it is important to distinguish between SAFE and the Energy Security Leadership Council, whose members you have contacted," said Carey. "The agreement with Mr. Bauer is between him and SAFE. The ESLC is a separate project of SAFE."
Bauer said he doubted that the exposure of his role with the coalition would alter the relationship, but said he'd continue working on energy security in any event.
"It would be odd indeed if somebody would back out of being part of this effort because of the position I have on marriage, which is the same position that has held up until about 10 years ago and is probably the position held by the shareholders of most of the companies that were at the conference," he said. "I guess we'll see. If for some reason there was some change in what's going on with SAFE, I would continue to work on the issue. I'm a former contender for the presidential campaign in 2000, I've written 6 books, I got rave reviews for my remarks at the conference -- I certainly don't think believing marriage is between a man and a woman is in any way, shape or form going to hurt me about anything I would care about."
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